A highly varied fusion of European and African styles that works surprisingly well.
David Katz 2011-05-17
The Owiny Sigoma Band has a very unusual back-story. Its initial genesis took place in January 2009 when, basking in the euphoria of the election of Barak Obama, five optimistic Londoners headed to Nairobi to collaborate with unnamed Kenyan musicians, for a project partly facilitated by Art of Protest, a voluntary organisation that aims to promote local rap artists and other music makers. The London crew, which includes keyboardist Jesse Hackett, his bass-playing drummer Louis, drummer Tom Skinner, and guitarists Sam Lewis and Chris Morphitis (the latter also doubling up on bouzouki), had no real clear agenda other than getting to know the place, and to create some kind of musical exchange with local players.
Things quickly gelled after Art of Protest introduced the London lads to Joseph Nyamungu, master of the eight-stringed lyre known as the nyatiti, and a powerhouse of knowledge regarding the traditional music of his tribe, the Luo of western Kenya. Joseph then drafted in his drumming mate, Charles Owoko, and everyone was ready to rock, the first set of recordings taking place at a disused factory in the middle of a huge potato market, during a marathon four-day session. Then, 14 months later, the Londoners returned for another couple of days’ worth of recordings, this time with additional Kenyan players drafted in by Nyamungu.
The result is a highly varied album that works surprisingly well, despite being all over the map and decidedly rough around the edges. Opening number Gone Thum Mana Gi Nyadhi draws you in with a mellow groove laden with bass hooks and sprightly keyboard lines, bubbling beneath some ropey Luo vocals; Odero Lwar has delightful lyre riffs and quietly mesmerising drums beneath the boys’ percolating rhythm, while the radio-friendly Wires shifts the balance into the sphere of the Brits, but counterbalances the Anglo influence with doses of Congolese-styled guitar.
Here on the Line gives the boys full focus, with only a gentle lyre and the odd percussive sprinkle hinting at a non-London locale. For me, the truest highlights come when the Kenyans are allowed less-encumbered spotlights, on numbers such as Owegi Owandho and Rapar Nyanz. But everything on this album has enough verve to keep you tuned in from start to finish, making for a refreshingly different listen whose very unevenness somehow adds to the appeal.